DENVER (KDVR) – The City of Denver will have more resources available to help eliminate homelessness in the 2022 budget year thanks, in part, to funds from the American Recovery Act, according to Mayor Michael Hancock.
“Sustainability will be an issue going forward, but we, just right now, we’re going to be able to acquire more, to do more and to serve more people. And that’s a big deal,” he said.
Breaking down Denver’s budget
The Mayor plans dedicate $190 million to tackling housing stability and homelessness resolution, according to Julie Smith, the communications manager for Denver’s Department of Finance.
Of this total amount, she said, $90 million “is directly dedicated to homelessness resolution.”
Approximately $50 million of the money that would be used for housing stability and homelessness resolution would come directly from the American Rescue Plan Act State and Local Fiscal Relief funding, from which Denver will receive a total of $154 million.
According to Smith, $43.3 million would be spent on housing and homelessness investments like affordable housing, alternatives to shelter – including Safe Outdoor Spaces and tiny homes – and shelter expansions.
About $3.5 million would help provide housing stability rental vouchers and be used to help people with rapid rehousing if they lose their home.
Approximately $7 million is slated for infrastructure investments such as “shelter resiliency” and “life safety improvements” at city recreation centers.
However, Hancock said the next steps in the fight to prevent homelessness are not just about how much money is being spent.
“I think it is how thoughtfully and strategically you approach the challenge that helps you to be effective. We have sense of what works here. You must have housing first, and you must have the intensive services there, where they are housed to support them,” he said.
Hancock said 11,000 people have been housed in the city since he took office.
“We often times spend a lot of our time talking about the tents because they’re the most visible and the people who are outdoors or, you know, not in our shelters and receiving the services, as opposed to those 11,000 souls and families that have been successfully housed and stabilized in the city of Denver,” Hancock said.
“We’ve incentivized and helped finance thousands of units of housing, but keys are much smaller than tents,” he added.
Gov. Polis is ‘leaning in’ when it comes to homelessness assistance
“Everyone wants the local government to solve the challenge, and we simply aren’t equipped to do it,” Hancock said. “I’ve said this from day one: the City of Denver cannot do this by itself.”
Hancock said the homeless issue has become more complex since he took office.
“Obviously the opiate and meth epidemics have just created an amazing challenge for us. The mental health issues in America. The challenge of addressing those who are dual diagnosed. We’re facing that every day. And then, of course, the rising cost of housing also contributes to the challenge that we’re dealing with. So, it’s very, very complex, and what we know since I’ve been in in office, is that for every person who’s homeless, we must have a tailored approach to assist them,” Hancock told Problem Solver Lori Jane Gliha.
According to Angie Nelson, Denver’s Deputy Director of the Department of Housing Stability and Homelessness Resolution, there are approximately 24,000 affordable housing units in Denver.
However, as many as 115,000 households, about one in three in Denver, are at risk of homelessness if something like a job loss, an unexpected medical event, or a major repair bill put them over the edge.
“The mayor’s proposed budget includes $190 million for the Department of Housing Stability to help us deliver on our big goals of helping to keep people in the homes they have, create and preserve affordable housing options, and resolve those episodes of homelessness,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the city plans to create and preserve 7,000 affordable housing units over the course of five years. She said the plan also aims to reduce unsheltered homelessness by 50% during that time.
“It’s an exponential growth in resources available to us,” Nelson said.
Hancock said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is beginning to “lean in” on the issue as well.
“We’ve had quite a few conversations, and he has evolved. We’ve all evolved on this issue. The governor recognizes that this is one of the top issues in not only Denver, but in the state today. Homelessness,” Hancock said.
The mayor said he appreciates the governor’s willingness to help develop solutions.
“We’ve had deep conversations,” said Hancock. “He’s talking about land owned by the state. He’s talking about recovery dollars being helpful and available to cities and making a difference. So, I’m encouraged by the governor and his team leaning in. They have met with our team they have toured potential facilities, and that to me, shows that not only are we leaning in, but we’re vested, and we want to find a way to help the city and the metro region out.”
With contributions in reporting from Carisa Scott, Serena Ung and DJ Summers.